Press Release

Tate Modern: Collection 2000

Tate Modern
Friday 12 May 2000 –

In a radical break with the tradition of exhibiting works chronologically and by school, Tate Modern will show the Tate Collection of modern art from 1900 onwards in four themed groups each of which spans the century. Radical as the scheme is, it is also rooted in tradition. Collection 2000 takes as its basis the major subject categories, or genres, of art that were established by the French Academy in the seventeenth century, namely landscape, still life, the nude and history painting. It traces both the ways in which these genres have survived and been radically transformed through the twentieth century.

The four genres are displayed in four suites, two on Level 5 and two on Level 3. Each suite offers a complete visit on its own, with work from both the beginning of the twentieth century and the present day. The suites are:

Landscape, Matter, Environment

The idea that nature was of interest as the principal subject for art developed only fitfully in the west, but through the nineteenth century, as industrialisation and urbanisation grew apace, nature increasingly came to be seen as a place of beauty, a resort for physical and spiritual refreshment.

As the twentieth century opened landscape art was already undergoing radical transformation in late Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism. Landscape based abstract art pushed further the move beyond surface appearances, while from the 1920s the basic structures and processes of nature were reflected in a type of abstract form known as biomorphic.

The Surrealists created landscapes of the mind, and the large scale colour field abstraction of the 1950s and 1960s was often landscape inspired or can be read as landscape or an environment. In the 1960s and 1970s many artists made works and constructions actually in landscape - so-called Land art. At the same time, as concern for the environment grew, landscape art took on a social and political dimension.

Still Life, Object, Real Life

Like landscape, still life only emerged as a distinct category of painting in the seventeenth century. It developed as a celebration of the material pleasures of life - food, drink, possessions. In a religious age it also took on symbolic meaning: dead fish and game, flowers that will fade, fruit that will rot, objects that will outlive us, as well as actual skulls, becoming reminders of mortality.

At the start of the twentieth century the use of simple still life arrangements of the most ordinary objects enabled the Cubists to develop a new way of representing reality in painting. Then they began to incorporate reality directly into their work, first in flat collages using newspaper, wallpaper and the like, then in three-dimensional Cubist constructions in some of which actual objects represented themselves. This marked a significant moment for one of modern art’s central obsessions: bringing art ever closer to reality

In the 1930s Surrealism injected powerful psychological, particularly psychosexual content, into the modern still life object and this spirit continues in much contemporary work. From the early 1960s Pop art and New Realism gave rise to a huge revival of still life, as artists turned their gaze on the bright new world of consumer goods and popular culture that was then burgeoning.

Nude, Action, Body

From ancient Greece to the beginning of modernism the central preoccupation of western art was with the human body, nude or clothed, used as a means of expressing many aspects of what it is to be human.

In the twentieth century the human figure and human themes have remained prominent preoccupations of artists, rivaled only by the emergence of pure abstraction. But the body has seen often radical transformations of form, an increasing frankness in the depiction of all its physical aspects, and an intensive exploration of psychological, sexual and social themes.

The 1960s saw the remarkable development of Performance, or Action art, in which the artist’s own body becomes the central expressive means. This ephemeral art was given permanence by recording on film or video, and by the end of the century these media had become important in their own right as a means of extending ever further the exploration of the body in art. In the final decades of the twentieth century the idea of bringing reality directly into art has been increasingly widely explored, bearing rich and varied fruit.

History, Memory, Society

This suite takes its cue from the genre known as history. This embraced subjects drawn from the Bible, literature and ancient myth, as well as historical events. The essence of history art was that it had specific moral, social, or political content. Throughout the twentieth century, artists have continued to picture history, looking not only at the epic but the everyday, making critiques as well as celebrations.

A particular twist to the history tradition in the early twentieth century was the increasing tendency of artists to form groups and create politically or socially motivated ‘movements’ backed by the dissemination of written manifestoes. At the same time they moved from writing to the creation of utopian or futuristic visions of society, sometimes, paradoxically, expressed in works of pure abstraction, for example by the de Stijl group, and Russian artists of the revolutionary period. Social comment continued to be a subtext of abstract art even in the extreme forms of Minimalism. But grand statements using the human figure did not disappear.

Between Cinema and a Hard Place
Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1
12 May - December 2000
Level 4, admission: £3

Between Cinema and a Hard Place is a unique survey of art at the end of the twentieth century. Taking the title of a work by Gary Hill, an American video artist, the display addresses one of the most important changes to take place in art in the twentieth century - the radical switch that artists have made from presenting a window onto the world to presenting a world in itself.

Ranging from film and video to sculpture, the exhibition features works by the following artists:

Miroslaw Balka, Matthew Barney, Christian Boltanski, Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller, James Coleman, Stan Douglas, Douglas Gordon, Antony Gormley, Mona Hatoum, Gary Hill, Rebecca Horn, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Anish Kapoor, Tatsuo Miyajima, Juan Munoz, Bruce Nauman, Cornelia Parker, Gabriel Orozco, Julian Opie, Thomas Schutte, Bill Viola, Jeff Wall and Rachel Whiteread.

From Boltanski’s poignant shrines to Kabakov’s labyrinthine structures, these created environments are often inspired by the mass media and use materials ranging from Vaseline to video, ceramics to electronics. The display will also feature sculpture which crucially interacts with the space in which it is shown.

As well as drawing on an element of the Tate Collection which has rarely been shown due to lack of space, the display includes significant loans from around the world.